You Don’t Know Him

Photo by Sergio Rota on Unsplash

As I was driving home after school drop off this morning, a guy in a lifted Ford pickup was tailgating me. Because of the vehicle he was driving, I’ll admit I had some preconceived ideas about him and what kind of person he must be, especially because he was tailgating. But, I have been working on not being quite as judgmental and giving people the benefit of the doubt. In situations like the one this morning, I try to remind myself that I have no idea who this person is or what might be going on his life. I remind myself his aggressive driving behavior is not my business. I take a deep breath in, wish him well on his journey, and try not to stare at him with daggers through the rear view (which I am sure he could see since he was that close).

He did eventually pull around me and, due to traffic, landed directly in front of me instead. This provided an opportunity to see his myriad bumper stickers. He had a Marine Corps license plate, so I thanked him mentally for his service. Then I noticed his Blue Lives Matter sticker, an automatic rifle sticker, and a Let’s Go, Brandon sticker. I took another deep breath. These things for sure told me that this guy and I would not see eye-to-eye in a political conversation.

In these situations, when I am even further inclined to judge someone I don’t know a thing about other than what their bumper stickers say, I like to play a little game with myself. I imagine something about them that would make me change my mind about my negative thoughts. So, today I imagined this gentleman owns three rescue pups and visits his grandmother in the Memory Care Center every Sunday. For good measure, I imagined the reason he was tailgating me was because he was late on his way to a parent-teacher conference for a daughter he adopted out of foster care. I don’t know him. This could legitimately be his story. Who am I to say? I don’t know him from Adam. Hell. His name could be Adam.

I mean, it’s probably not. And he probably does hate Joe Biden and think masks and vaccines are for sheeple, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a decent person with many redeeming qualities.

My point here is that we’ve put a plethora of superficial determiners in place that allow us to dehumanize each other and make each other perceived enemies, which is a lot to do to people we don’t know at all. We can try to be better. We can at least give each other the benefit of the doubt. We’ll be wrong part of the time. Sometimes, the jerk tailing you will be exactly who you think he is, but sometimes he won’t. Sometimes he will be more complicated and not just a caricature that can be conjured up based on some bumper stickers, a lifted truck, and poor driving habits.

Mama Said

Two boys in a jogger stroller and a 75 pound dog on a leash? Yep. I got this.
Two boys in a jogger stroller and a 75 pound dog on a leash? Yep. I got this.

As I was exiting yoga today and walking towards my car, I noticed a mother with two young sons standing by a minivan. I’m not a highly observant person as a rule (ie., you would not want me to pick someone out of a line up), so it’s fair to say that the reason I noticed them at all was because her oldest son was mid-tantrum and wailing terribly. She was holding her younger son on her hip while the older son rolled on the pavement in the parking lot. Next to him were the spilled remnants of what appeared to be a large cup of fro-yo complete with toppings. She was talking to him in a stern voice in an attempt to quell the tantrum, but the whole thing wasn’t going so well for her. I knew she was having one of those Calgon-take-me-away moments to which all moms can relate (even if they don’t want to admit it). She was young, or at least younger than me, and she was beside herself and becoming increasingly frustrated. I averted my eyes lest she feel inadvertently judged, got into my car, and quietly thanked the heavens that my boys are no longer toddlers.

I don’t miss those days, although I do remember them as if they were yesterday. Like the mom today, I too bear the scars of dropped ice cream cones that gave way to full-fledged meltdowns in public places where passersby shot me derisive looks and shook their heads. I recall the amazement I felt when I realized I’d been reduced to a spineless, kowtowing dope by a 30-pound, 3 year old boy who was only standing on this planet because I dropped him here. Literally. It was a sobering moment. As I watched the mom struggle in the parking lot today, a part of me wanted to approach her and tell her she was doing a good job. I wanted to tell her that despite what all the books tell you some days being a parent feels more like a curse than a blessing. I wanted to let her know that I had been standing exactly in her shoes and that some day she would be standing in my shoes watching another mom struggle through the same situation. It happens all the time. But, I didn’t go talk to her. I didn’t say anything because I know that when I was at that point in my life, any comment about my parenting experience was like nails on a chalkboard. When people would see my young kids and tell me to “enjoy them because they grow up so fast,” I wanted to smack them for asking me to cherish something that was beyond unpleasant for me in that moment. I get it now, but then I was bitter.

When I think about my experience parenting over the past almost 12 years, what strikes me is how unfair I’ve been with myself. I’ve berated myself and belittled my efforts. I understand now that I’ve only ever done the best I was capable of at the time with the knowledge I had in that moment. Sure, in hindsight I made some stupid decisions, but I didn’t know any other way. I wish I could go back in time and tell that younger me, standing there in the parking lot at the mercy of my tantrum-enhanced child, that it was nothing more than a bad day. I would tell myself to relax. Ice cream gets dumped. Kids throw fits. It happens, and it doesn’t mean that you’re an overly indulgent parent or that your child is a spoiled brat. It simply means that gravity won that round.

Some days being the parent truly sucks, as the minivan mom in the parking lot of the Vitamin Cottage today can truly attest. Parenting books offer suggestions, but they don’t know you, your unique child, or your family circumstances. Some days you have to sing Kumbaya  and practice a trust fall with yourself, knowing that in the end it will all work out. Mama wasn’t lying when she said there would be days like this. What she failed to mention, though, is that you shouldn’t sweat it. You’ve got this.

Don’t Eat Something That Doesn’t Agree With You…Befriend It

Somewhere lost in our pit of a house, probably stuck in between pages in a book on a bookshelf, is a copy of one of my favorite comic strips ever. I cut it from our college newspaper way back when. The cartoon depicts two alligators, one shoved into the other’s mouth. A banner hangs above their heads that reads “Alligator Debate.” The caption reads, “Al suddenly realized he’d just eaten something that didn’t agree with him.” It cracks me up every time I think about it.

As I watched the presidential debate tonight, I simultaneously followed my Facebook and Twitter feeds. Don’t ask me why I would do this. Clearly, this being the first election in which I had access to such a broad spectrum of individuals via social media, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. While hoping, I suppose, to get a more well-rounded view of what other Americans thought of the debate, all I succeeded in doing was giving myself an even bigger headache than I already had. At one point during the debate, I told my husband that my favorite part of the debate is when it’s over. At least then the fact checkers get the opportunity to dissect what has been said and let us know what was legitimate and what was bunk. At that point I’m ready to start considering what I’ve heard, but I never start the process until I know what’s fact and what’s fiction. Unfortunately, I don’t think (based on what I saw on social media tonight) that very many people take the time to reserve judgment or to consider the other side.

Thomas Jefferson once said, “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” I haven’t either, which is why I love this quote. Most of my Facebook friends fall far from me on the ideological scale. If I were to unfriend those with whom I have a serious a difference of opinion in politics, religion, or philosophy, I’d be cleaning out the vast majority of the 311 folks on my list. While I won’t deny that I get great satisfaction from my conversations with the friends who see life through a similar lens, I learn an awful lot from those who disagree with me. So, even as those friends are making comments that make my eyes roll, I wouldn’t withdraw my friendship. Their ideas, beliefs, and opinions, only inform and enhance mine. Although, on nights like tonight when I am bombarded by opinions 180-degrees from my own, I have to dig really deep to hold true to Jefferson’s quote. I have to remember how important difference of opinion is to intellectual growth. And, yes. I have to remind myself not to want to eat the friends who disagree with me.

(If I manage to find that comic, I will post it here. I’m still smiling thinking about it.)